Special Reports

Waiting for the ferry in 1950

So you think all the highway repairs has you tearing your hair out on the daily commute? Try taking a ferry across the Columbia for a real circus atmosphere.

‘Grin-and-bear-it’ attitude big help for trip on ferry

By Jim Grant, Herald staff

Published on March 15, 1950

You don’t have to have a philosophical mind to cross the Columbia river on the Hover-Attalia ferry, but a “grin-and-bear-it” attitude would help.

Why? Well, maybe you’re in the same spot that Fred Schmerer was in for the first part of the afternoon Tuesday. Schmerer, who was hauling a load of beer for Clarence Hawk of Walla Walla, waited for the ferry for more than three hours.He pulled into line shortly before noon and finally got on the ferry just after three o’clock.

Somewhat resigned to his enforced idleness, Schmerer smiled when asked why he was using the ferry. He figured that he saved 78 miles by crossing the river.

And Schmerer’s stay was made more comfortable by Fred Padgett’s Popcorn wagon. Padgett said he moved his wagon from the old stand at Fruitland Street and Columbia Avenue in Kennewick Monday.

Padgett was doing a brisk trade selling popcorn, candy, cigarettes and coffee. He had sandwiches until the health department told him he couldn’t sell food without hot and cold running water.

Schmerer wasn’t the only person who had a long wait.

Mrs. B.W. Titz and Lillian Martin left Kennewick at noon and were still at the Hover site at 3 p.m. from Tacoma, they were traveling to Walla Walla.

Neither of the two ladies were mad at the prospect of sitting it out for three hours. Rather, they were resigned, although Mrs. Titz did say, “I wish we had gone the other way.”

Mr. and Mrs. Charles Graham from Peck, Id., “about 38 miles east of Lewiston,” had “sweated” out the long wait Monday as they were off an a visit to Sunnyside. They weren’t sore, they were philosophical about the wait.They’d waited two-and a half hours on their Monday trip.

One of the big reasons for the delay was explained by Robert A. Geary, supervisor of bridges and ferries for the Pasco office of the state highway department. He said the river had dropped and made it difficult for the tugs to land the barge ferries.The same viewpoint was expressed by Captain Jim Russell, master of the Virginia S., a tug which had been used on barge traffic from Portland to The Dalles.

He said the river had dropped better than four feet in the three previous days. This made the water by the landing slips shallow and hard to maneuver in.

Lee McMullen, a construction foreman for the highway departments, said he had a crew deepening the slip on the Attalia side. One man was running a power shovel and another a bulldozer. McMullen said his crew would dredge the channel another eight feet deeper. The tugs draw five feet of water.

According to McMullen, the slip on the Hover side was all right.

Captain Russell, a veteran of the tugboat business, said his ship and the Hastwell, skippered by H. Royse, were twin-screw. With both tugs on one barge, the trip with the current from Hover to Attalia can be made in four-and-a-half minutes. Against the current, the trip takes 16 minutes.

A round-trip takes 35 minutes, counting in 15 minutes time to load and unload. The barge, the Smith No. 5, can carry 22 cars.

And the crews pack the cars in like sardines in a can.

One driver failed to heed the directions from a deck hand and drove off with some blue paint on his cream-colored fender. Still, all-in-all, the men operating the ferries feel the public is cooperating.

Russell, however, hung out the “No Sightseers” sign for motorists who want to see how the ferry operates.